We thought we understood what he was. We were wrong, of course, but we'd picked up whatever we had from around the place and considered him broken and his presence inappropriate. 'Hey,' I said more than once to my friends, when he emerged, pointing at him behind his back, 'hey.' We would follow when we were brave, as he walked alleys of hedgerow toward the river or a market, or in the direction of the archive ruins or the Embassy. Twice I think one of us jeered nervously. Passers-by instantly hushed us.
'Have some respect,' an altoysterman told us firmly. He put down his basket of shellfish and aimed a quick cuff at Yohn, who had shouted. The vendor watched the old man's back. I remember suddenly knowing, though I didn't have the words to express it, that not all his anger was directed at us, that those tutting in our faces were disapproving, at least in part, of the man.
'They're not happy about where he lives,' said that evening's shiftfather, Dad Berdan, when I told him about it. I told the story more than once, describing the man we had followed carefully and confusedly, asking the Dad about him. I asked him why the neighbours weren't happy and he smiled in embarrassment and kissed me goodnight. I stared out of my window and didn't sleep. I watched the stars and the moons, the glimmering of Wreck.
I can date the following events precisely, as they occurred on the day after my birthday. I was melancholic in a way I'm now amused by. It was late afternoon. It was the third sixteenth of September, a Dominday. I was sitting alone, reflecting on my age (absurd little Buddha!), spinning my birthday money by the coin wall. I heard a door open but I didn't look up, so it may have been seconds that the man from the house stood before me while I played . When I realised I looked up at him in bewildered alarm.
'Girl,' he said. He beckoned. 'Please come with me.' I don't remember considering running. What could I do, it seemed, but obey?
His house was astonishing. There was a long room full of dark colours, cluttered with furniture, screens and figurines. Things were moving, automa on their tasks. We had creepers on the walls of our nursery but nothing like these shining black-leaved sinews in ogees and spirals so perfect they looked like prints. Paintings covered the walls, and plasmings, their movements altering as we entered. Information changed on screens in antique frames. Hand-sized ghosts moved among pot-plants on a trid like a mother-of-pearl games board.
'Your friend.' The man pointed at his sofa. On it lay Yohn.
I said his name. His booted feet were up on the upholstery, his eyes were closed. He was red and wheezing.
I looked at the man, afraid that whatever he'd done to Yohn, as he must have done, he would do to me. He did not meet my eyes, instead, fussing with a bottle. 'They brought him to me,' he said. He looked around, as if for inspiration on how to speak to me. 'I've called the constables.'
He sat me on a stool by my barely breathing friend and held out a glass of cordial to me. I stared at it suspiciously until he drank from it himself, swallowed and showed me he had by sighing with his mouth open. He put the vessel in my hand. I looked at his neck, but I could not see a link.
I sipped what he had given me. 'The constables are coming,' he said. 'I heard you playing. I thought it might help him to have a friend with him. You could hold his hand.' I put the glass down and did so. 'You could tell him you're here, tell him he'll be alright.'
'Yohn, it's me, Avice.' After a silence I patted Yohn on the shoulder. 'I'm here. You'll be alright, Yohn.' My concern was quite real. I looked up for more instructions, and the man shook his head and laughed.
'Just hold his hand then,' he said.
'What happened, sir?' I said.
'They found him. He went too far.'
Poor Yohn looked very sick. I knew what he'd done.
Excerpted from Embassytown by China Mieville. Copyright © 2011 by China Mieville. Excerpted by permission of Del Rey, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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